OK, so I went to the movies yesterday, which occasioned this unhappy little screed.
The Mission Impossible movie series featuring Tom Cruise has had a rather mixed history. The first film by Brian DePalma was a pretty good action movie with a solid plot, somewhat marred by too-glib dialogue among the supposedly incredibly professional IMF team introduced at the start of the movie, as well as by the fact that Tom Cruise just can't act. But still, worth seeing, and with that brilliant Mission Impossible theme.
The second movie was a mess, with John Woo stringing together overly aestethicized action scenes with a cursory plot, and it didn't help that Cruise can't act. It was watchable once on the big screen, but try re-viewing it on a TV screen; the paper-thin plot breaks almost immediately, and you've already seen the stunts, so what's left? Nothing.
The third one's OK. Some great action sequences, the best being the ones where Cruise has to work with very little resources to handle impossible situations, like when he's chained to a gurney under guard by several IMF agents, and still manages to escape. The love story between him and his fiancée is a bit too much on the syrupy side, but this movie works – even though there is some reason to doubt the tactical competence of somebody going in on a rescue mission with so little ammo that it comes down to having just one bullet left to kill the final bad guy. These people are experts? Really?
And then we have this latest installment, which simply sucks. Oh, the stunts and action scenes are well done, but even when they are, they're often not very good. The scriptwriter and the director have fallen into some oh-so-common traps that plague B movies and TV series; let's look at a couple of them.
First of all – and this is "first of all" because it indicates the lack of respect the film has for its own subject matter – it has a comic relief character. Now, in many teams of various sorts you'll find somebody who's the "comic relief" guy of the team, making jokes and lightening the mood. However, he'll not be providing comic relief by being incompetent at the actual job the team's supposed to be doing, because if he was, he wouldn't be in the team to begin with – especially if the team's job was one where failing at it would mean getting killed.
However, newly promoted field agent Benji Dunn provides "comic relief" not to his team, but for the movie, by being bad at his job. He babbles in English about all sorts of irrelevant stuff when he and Ethan Hunt infiltrate the Kremlin – and this error is compounded by having him state that he's babbling because he's nervous, an admission as good as any by the scriptwriter and the director that "we suck at our jobs, so we'll just have to tell the audience outright what we instead ought to be able to convey through dialogue and characterization". Not only that, but just before Dunn and Hunt start the final, dangerous part of the infiltration, he tells Hunt that "Look, I'm sorry about your wife".
So we learn that there is some tragedy related to Hunt's marriage, but this info comes at a cost to the movie. First, it establishes that Dunn is an idiot and that nobody in his right mind would want him with him on a mission. Second, it dilutes the tension of what should be an incredibly tense, exciting moment. It's right out of the Sloppy Scriptwriting Handbook – and there's more where that came from.
You also have the outright stupid moments, like at the very beginning, when elite IMF agent Trevor Hanaway is killed not really by assassin Sabine Moreau, but by his own mobile phone. See, after his daring escape from the bad guys with the nuclear launch codes which are the movie's MacGuffin, walking along a nearly empty street, he gets an alert signal from his cell phone's facial recognition app that the woman walking towards him is none other than assassin Sabine Moreau. What does this highly trained IMF agent do? He looks down at his cell phone. Seeing the "look out she's a killer ZOMG!" alert on its screen, he then looks up at the person he shouldn't have taken his eyes off, and gets the bullet he so richly deserves from her silenced pistol.
I mean, come on. You're basing your most dramatic scenes on incredibly unprofessional behavior by what's supposed to be the greatest secret agents, and crappily-designed software – I mean, that's hardly user-friendly, is it? So the Sloppy Scriptwriting Handbook strikes again.
All right, back to that Kremlin caper I was talking about. That mission is thwarted by the brilliant evil mastermind that is the movie's bad guy, Swedish physics professor Kurt Hendricks. Not only is Hendricks able to somehow (unexplained to the audience) sneak into the Kremlin and steal whatever he wants including nuclear launch codes, he has also the super-power (shared with the Joker of The Dark Knight) to place whatever amount of explosives he wants wherever he wants without anybody being able to detect it.
Kurt Hendricks is also a major problem in the movie. Not only is he, a middle-aged and somewhat paunchy physics professor, seemingly able to hold his own in a fight with a top-trained IMF agent (good grief), he also has a motivation for his evil deeds that is not even on the level of credibility of a James Bond villain – in fact, it doesn't even reach the level of "comic-book-y". It's like something out of a Menachem Golan movie.
In fact, that is pretty much what this is: a Menachem Golan movie. Its plot, script and internal consistency is pretty much right out of a Chuck Norris cheapo actioneer, albeit one with brilliant production values and excellent instead of cheesy stunts.
One of the few positive points is that the female lead, Paula Patton, is very, very beautiful – but true to form, her supposedly highly trained and professional elite agent character doesn't have the common sense to handcuff a deadly assassin she's apprehended. This somewhat later results in what I'm sure the film makers considered another exciting fight sequence when in fact, all it was was sloppy field work by the agent. Which in turn came straight from, well, you know: the Sloppy Scriptwriting Handbook.
So incredibly not recommended.